As a big fan of friendly banter, I am always ready to throw down on a real vs. artificial Christmas tree argument. Team Real Tree love to wax poetic about the tradition of heading to the farm each year and the festive character that only comes from dressing a natural tree. While the artificial tree folks (of which I am—or was—one) like to tout the charm of colorful trees and the low cost and easy cleanup of bringing out the same tinsel shrub year after year.
And cutting down trees has to be the worst thing for the planet, right? Wrong.
When you consider the carbon pollution effects of the manufacture and transportation of artificial trees, a person would have to keep their artificial tree for more than 20 years to compete with the benefits of a real tree. And according to The Nature Conservancy in New York, most households only keep their artificial trees for six seasons.
So as pretty as trendy rose gold trees can be, if you're buying artificial, you're better off going for something timeless that you can hang on to for at least a few decades.
Or, even better, come over to the real tree side....
Why Real Christmas Trees Are Better Than Artificial Ones
Christmas trees are a big business—it's a $1.3 billion per year industry in the United States—and the market of growing and selling trees actually does a lot of good for the planet, even though a fraction of them are chopped down each year to head to living rooms everywhere.
"The first thing people should know is that farmed trees are a sustainable resource," said Bill Ulfelder, the Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in New York. "There are about 400 million trees grown on tree farms across the country, and only about 10% are harvested each year. While they are growing these trees provide clean air and water, important habitat for wildlife, and erosion control."
Ulfelder also cited another lesser-known benefit of the natural tree business: Most of the 15,000 Christmas tree farms across the United States are family-owned businesses that provide more than 100,000 jobs each year.
And even when you're done, your discarded Christmas tree can still do good, if you know where to recycle it. "Many towns and cities have tree recycling opportunities where your tree can be mulched or composted and its nutrients returned to the soil," Ulfelder said. "In New York City we have a very easy curbside pick-up program, and the mulch from the Christmas trees is used by the Parks Department all across the city. In other places, real trees are used to create fish habitat or stabilize sand dunes from wind erosion.
"Readers should definitely check online to see if there's a way to recycle trees in their area."